Tag Archives: Measure KK

Reuben Duarte: Why Berkeley is Wrong on BRT

11 May

This is the first in a two-part series of guest posts about Berkeley’s vote on BRT. Today’s post, by Reuben Duarte, looks at BRT through an environmental and planning lens. Tomorrow’s post, by Joel Ramos, will focus on what happened and what’s next, particularly as it relates to Oakland.

This guest post was written by Reuben Duarte, who serves on the board of East Bay Young Democrats, is a Waterfront Commissioner for the City of Berkeley, and is a transit advocate and planning enthusiast. This post was originally posted on the East Bay Young Democrats website.

Two Thursdays ago, the Berkeley City Council voted on the Locally Preferred Alternative (LPA) plan for AC Transit’s East Bay Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) project.  The Council essentially had three options: 1) “Full Build”, as recommended by the city staff, which would mean dedicated lanes running up Telegraph Avenue and “island” bus stops, where passengers could board the bus in the middle of the road, much like you see in San Francisco on Market Street. 2) A “Reduced Impact Alternative” as prepared by Mayor Bates and other councilmembers, which was a watered down version of the Full Build option, but still included dedicated lanes and islands.  3) A so-called “Rapid Bus Plus” (RBP) option which, in essence, is a no-build option because it removed all dedicated lanes and made no lane reconfigurations on roads.

After impassioned, and sometimes theatrical testimony by the public, the Berkeley City Council succumbed to NIMBY pressure and rejected any elements of full-build and endorsed only option three, the so-called, “Rapid Bus Plus” plan.

Before I go into the issues of BRT, let me quickly address the importance of the LPA and why you should be upset that Berkeley has practically killed the BRT project for everyone else.  In very simplified terms, the way a project like this goes is that AC Transit puts together an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) on how they want the project to run.  In this case, they give their preferred route for a BRT system from San Leandro to Oakland to Berkeley.  This is then sent to each city for review.  Each city then decides what they believe is the best alternative for their city, the LPA.

You need to understand that the EIR is a legal document and can’t really be changed once submitted.  For example, Councilman Kriss Worthington of Berkeley was critical of the BRT system because he believed it should connect to the Berkeley Amtrak station down University Avenue.  Now, regardless of how you feel about adding a University Ave. section to BRT, because AC Transit did not study University Ave. in its EIR, it legally cannot study implementing it as an option now.  It would have to start a brand new EIR that included the University section, essentially starting all over.

Some will argue that BRT isn’t dead because the vote passed was a vote on a study of BRT and not the actual construction of it.  But because it’s a regional project, BRT needs a decent amount of consensus among the cities to be implemented.  Because Oakland City Council has endorsed the study of a full-build option and Berkeley has now rejected full-build in favor of no-build, if AC Transit went ahead and built the system as Oakland and Berkeley want, what would happen is that you would have dedicated lanes in Oakland along Telegraph Ave. until you reached the Berkeley border where it would switch to normal configuration from dedicated lanes to non-dedicated lanes.  This would also affect regular traffic because drivers would need to merge into one lane going each way on Telegraph once entering Oakland.  The result would be a less reliable and slower BRT in Berkeley where buses and cars would clump at the border and would cause ripple affects to the entire system, thus making the entire system less feasible.

Having said the above, there were several key issues that opponents used to fear monger and get their way.  The key issues were over parking and business along Telegraph. However, these and many other concerns over BRT are unfounded.

BRT is Consistent with the Passage of Measure G, the City’s Adopted Climate Action Plan and the Defeat of Measure KK

At the Berkeley City Council meeting, you would have thought half the city was up in arms over the proposed project.  However, this would be a miss-perception, as one intrepid public speaker pointed out during his public comment.  In 2008, Berkeley residents overwhelmingly rejected Measure KK, a city ballot initiative that would have required voter approval before any agency dedicate a street lane for higher-occupancy vehicles (i.e. buses).  But because of Measure KK’s thunderous defeat, the speaker pointed out it would be a mistake to construe the opposition in attendance as a true representation of the opinions of the city as a whole, and he would be right.

In 2006, Berkeley residents overwhelmingly approved Measure G, setting an 80% reduction target in greenhouse gasses.  Last year in 2009, the City Council approved Berkeley’s Climate Action Plan where a goal of the plan is to ensure “public transit, walking, cycling and other sustainable mobility modes are the primary modes of transportation by residents and visitors.”  BRT would have allowed Berkeley to achieve this goal and Telegraph Ave. is just the sort of corridor that should be tailored for use by transit-riders and pedestrians rather than private automobiles.

BRT Would Reduce Greenhouse Gasses

A better public transit system means more transit riders and fewer automobiles on the road.  With the projected number of 50,000 daily riders by 2025, BRT could eliminate 10,000 daily auto trips.  Not only does this help to mitigate the lower auto-capacity on Telegraph Ave., but it helps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the use of private cars pushed into the atmosphere.  Improved transit that is faster and more reliable would encourage drivers to take the bus to jobs in Downtown Oakland and San Leandro and vice versa into Berkeley.

BRT Would Improve Conditions for Cyclists on Telegraph

One of the groups speaking in favor of BRT was the cyclist community.  They recognize the resulting reduction and calming of traffic conditions along the Telegraph corridor will allow for improved bike lanes with better bike access and rider safety, thus promoting an additional alternative to the automobile.

BRT Would Have Brought More Customers to Vendors

Opponents of BRT made grandiose arguments suggesting that BRT would kill businesses, especially the street vendors on a four block stretch of Telegraph between the UC Berkeley campus and Dwight Street.  They implied customers would not patron if there were no private automobiles.

I found this argument odd because as a former student of UC Berkeley, I can say that the primary patrons are 1) students and 2) those that walked or took the bus to Telegraph.  Very few people actually drive to Telegraph then park, largely because there isn’t any parking nearby already.  So the street vendors eager to suggest the death of their business as a result of BRT would have actually increased their customer base had BRT been implemented because a faster, more reliable transit system would encourage more people to use it.  That is, unless street vendors exist off the fuel exhaust of private automobiles.

Further, BRT would not have removed parking on Telegraph Ave. in this four-block area because there isn’t any parking to remove.  The only available parking on Telegraph itself is a few loading-zone areas that would have remained under Berkeley’s Staff LPA. The rest of the parking is in existing lot, garage or street parking on adjacent streets that would have remained unchanged under the plan.

BRT Could Spur Economic Development on Telegraph

While many opponents hailed BRT as the end of civilization in Berkeley as we know it, they failed to point to any tangible example of civilizations end as a result of BRT.  On the other side, however, almost every single proponent of the BRT project pointed to an example, either in the US or abroad, where BRT existed and actually improved the streetscape and local economies.  For example, a city like Cleveland, OH had implemented a similar BRT system connecting their downtown core to one of its universities.  The corridor they chose along Euclid Avenue was largely seen as an underutilized area.  But after BRT was built in 2008, at the height of the economic recession, the area experienced an economic boom of $3.3 billion in new developments and economic activity.

Also, a common example was down in the often transit-criticized city of Angels with Los Angeles’ Wilshire BRT project.  Compared to AC Transit’s project, LA’s Wilshire BRT project called for dedicated lanes along the curb of Wilshire Boulevard but only during peak commuter hours.  I bring this up because it was briefly suggested by Councilmember Kriss Worthington at the meeting on whether a “peak-hour” lane could be used instead of 24-hour dedicated lanes.  This, I personally don’t have too much of an issue with and would have supported, had the council been willing to actually look at anything more than a no-build option.  But they didn’t so… I guess it doesn’t really matter now.

Majority of Shoppers, Workers and Residents Don’t Drive Into Downtown.

A friend of mine made an interesting argument against BRT in an attempt to explain why councilmembers representing areas far from the BRT corridor would oppose it.  He suggested that residents in the hills and in North and West Berkeley would lose the most with BRT because they are more likely to drive into Downtown Berkeley and Telegraph, thus, would need readily available parking.  This is a good argument only if you can prove that the majority of customers in Downtown Berkeley drive in.  However, this isn’t the case.  In 2002, Berkeley City Council requested a UCB Dept. of Urban & Regional Planning studio study to look at this very issue of parking.  The study showed that over 60% of workers in Downtown Berkeley take non-auto modes of transportation and only 37% said they reach downtown by car.  Further, 70% of shoppers use non-auto to get to Downtown while only 20% drove.  In 2007, there was a second UCB study that confirmed the findings, showing 63% of visitors used non-auto modes of transportation to Downtown while only 34% use a private car.

The studio study determined the problem with parking shortages in Downtown Berkeley are in large part the result of visitors who stay in excess of parking limits, facilitated by broken meters and meter “feeding”.  While it is easy to say that this study focused on Downtown Berkeley vs. Telegraph Ave., the overall issue of parking, as addressed in this study, should show that eliminating parking is not a death blow to Berkeley businesses since most customers don’t drive to shop.

In the end, the Berkeley City Council chose to stick with a more auto-oriented Telegraph Avenue.  It is disappointing when a city that claims leadership in the fight against global warming and the use of alternative transportation and shown all the clear benefits of BRT; when given the option to truly lead by example would cave to the pressure of anti-development NIMBYs who just don’t want to build anything anywhere near anything.  Residents, in Berkeley and in the other cities that would be served by BRT, should be ashamed when a city like Los Angeles is showing more attention and progressive thinking towards public transportation than Berkeley.

Transit expansion doesn’t always make sense

16 Dec

There’s this funny thing that happens when you get into activism on a particular issue. Like when I first started working on medical marijuana, everyone I knew started emailing me articles about medical marijuana. Of course, since I work more than 40 hours a week on the issue, I’d usually already seen these articles long before my friends and family.

So now that everyone knows I’m all about public transit, the same thing is happening. But it’s different this time because sometimes it’s a bit less clear when public transit issues are positive or negative (unlike with medical marijuana, when it’s pretty clear that a DEA raid is a bad thing). So I got some emails and heard some comments about Joyce Roy’s race and how it sounded so great that she was taking on those terrible Van Hool buses (which I love) because my friends had never been on the Van Hools and had been reading too much of the East Bay Express.

But the most problematic phenomenon I’ve come across is that my friends who don’t know much about transit but support it wholeheartedly assume that all transit expansion is good. Unfortunately, it’s just not that simple.

Earlier this month, The Overhead Wire focused on this issue and conducted a poll of its readership, asking what is the worst transit project that is currently being planned. Two of the projects that were nominated are in the Bay Area – Bart to San Jose and the San Francisco Central Subway. Neither of these projects “won” the poll, but combined, they got as many votes as the winner.

Eric has already thoroughly explained why Bart to San Jose makes no sense and has made the case for why the current incarnation of the SF Central Subway is not the best project, so I won’t dwell on that here.

You’re probably wondering at this point why you should care about this, living in Oakland and all, where currently there aren’t any super-expensive or superfluous transit projects being planned. Well, transit money is limited, and these projects will be pulling funds from the same regional, state, and federal funds that the East Bay vies for. This means that every bad transit project in the Bay Area (and to a lesser extent anywhere in the state or nation) endangers transit in Oakland.

dto510 argued last month that Oakland transit is totally screwed, but I don’t think the picture is quite so bleak. After all, BRT is finally moving along, now that we’ve defeated Measure KK in Berkeley. Alameda and Contra Costa County voters also approved Measure VV, which is keeping AC Transit afloat, even in the face of further funding cuts from the state.

Transit advocates have already raised concerns that President-elect Obama wants to sink billions into car-centered road projects, and I share those concerns. But as Obama considers funding massive infrastructure projects, his administration would also do well to remember that not all transit projects are equally beneficial, and some just don’t make any sense at all. That’s something for him to ponder on his train ride to the inauguration.

So many mixed feelings

5 Nov

Yesterday was incredible. I woke up with so much energy and went out and voted. Then, I spent the next four hours walking a very hilly precinct in Oakland where half of the doors were up several flights of stairs. It was completely exhausting but also very fulfilling. Most people had voted and I saw lots of No on 8 signs (though also a couple of Yes on 8 signs).

I managed to then get myself to my office for a few hours and somehow focused enough to get some work done. And then then the polls started closing at 3pm and 4pm. I kept reloading Talking Points Memo, Swing State Project, and CNN, getting some work done in between obsessively checking for results. By 5pm, no one in my office was fully concentrating on work anymore – we had one computer running the live feed from MSNBC while I kept reloading lots of pages. Once Pennsylvania was called, I felt like it was over already, but this was confirmed for me when Ohio was called. It started to sink in a bit – Barack Obama was going to be our next president.

I was starving so I grabbed some sushi at Ichiro and headed down to a friend’s office in uptown. We ate sushi and waited for the networks to formally call it for Obama. I called friends who had been working in swing states and congratulated them. I talked to my dad, who sounded like he was on the verge of tears. And then at 8:01, they called it. We all started crying, and shouting. My friend opened his window and shouted – and several people on the street responded with shouts of joy.

The night continued in this direction for hours. We headed over to the Marriott for Rebecca Kaplan’s victory party, and when we got there we found out she was up with more than 60% of the vote. We then found out that Measure KK in Berkeley was going down in flames. The two campaigns that I had dedicated nearly all my free time to over the past several months had won decisively. I felt proud of my work and proud of our country.

That feeling persisted for hours. Obama’s speech brought tears to my eyes. There were smiles on everyone’s faces as we congratulated Rebecca Kaplan and each other. When I headed back out, over to Radio, the streets were packed with people in cars and on foot. Most of them seemed to be headed to Jack London Square. There were hundreds of people in the streets in downtown Oakland and we were all celebrating. Inside Radio, everyone had huge smiles on their faces and at one point a crowd of people burst through the door chanting about Obama.

I managed to celebrate through most of the night, even though people kept telling me that Prop 8 was up (I refused to look at the numbers myself). I kept telling myself that the early voting was more heavily conservative and the first counties to report are always the inland counties. It would be hours before Alameda, San Francisco, and Los Angeles reported so why bother worrying?

But between midnight and 1am, the numbers were still looking pretty bad. I didn’t know what counties had been counted, but it started to look clear to me that Prop 8 was going to pass. I started to get sad and worried. The friend I was with convinced me to stop worrying – Los Angeles almost certainly still had more votes to count, and we both assumed LA would vote against 8.

Well, we were wrong. I got home a couple hours later and checked in on the vote. Prop 8 had definitely passed, and worse, Los Angeles had voted in favor of it. Also, Alameda and San Francisco had had abysmal turnout. It was clearly over, even though the No on 8 campaign wasn’t conceding.

I finally got to sleep at 5am and slept through most of the day. When I awoke, I surprised myself and felt cheerful, thinking about what it meant that Obama would be our next president. That feeling quickly faded though. Even as I looked through all the congratulatory emails from the No on KK campaign committee, I couldn’t bring a smile to my face. All I could think about was that more than half of Californian voters voted to write discrimination into the constitution. They voted to discriminate against me and so many others.

I also thought critically about Rebecca Kaplan’s win. When I was phoning last week for Kaplan and No on 8, I was surprised at how many people I talked to who were voting enthusiastically for Kaplan but were also voting enthusiastically for 8. I’m guessing most of those people knew little of Rebecca’s sexual orientation. But ultimately they voted a lesbian onto our city council and simultaneously voted to strip her of one of her most fundamental rights. So even here in Oakland, we have a long way to go.

A part of me knows that I should be celebrating right now. I helped win two very important local campaigns and our country is headed in a new direction (the seats Dems picked up in the House and the Senate will certainly help with that). But I can’t help feeling incredibly distraught and disillusioned. Though I’m still proud of myself and my country, I can’t bring myself to feel proud of California.

My brief California & Oakland endorsements

2 Nov

I hadn’t planned to write a post with my endorsements, partly because I feel like others have that covered, and partly because a full endorsement post would take forever to write. But I realized I was going to email some of my friends with my endorsements so I figured I’d post them here too.

(Note that I’m skipping a bunch of races, either because they’re not really contested – I don’t see how Barbara Lee or Sandre Swanson could benefit from my endorsement – or because I don’t feel strongly about the race.)

California Propositions:

I agree with Calitics on the propositions so I’m just posting their endorsements here (emphasis added to the propositions I’m especially concerned about). Visit their site for a full explanation of these endorsements.

Proposition The Calitics Position Calitics Tag
Prop 1A (High Speed Rail) YES, YES, YES! Prop 1A
Prop 2(Farm Animal Conditions) Yes Prop 2
Prop 3 (Children’s Hospital Bonds) Yes Prop 3
Prop 4 (Parental Notification Again) No, NO, and NO AGAIN Prop 4
Prop 5 (Drug Rehab Programs) Yes Prop 5
Prop 6 (Runner Anti-Gang) NO Prop 6
Prop 7 (Renewable Power Standard) No Prop 7
Prop 8 (Anti-Marriage) NO! Prop 8
Prop 9 (Runner Victim’s Rights) No Prop 9
Prop 10 (Pickens Natural Gas) No Prop 10
Prop 11 (Redistricting) No Prop 11
12 (Veterans Bonds) Yes Prop 12

Oakland City Council At-Large: Rebecca Kaplan!!!

I’ve committed many hours of my time to getting Rebecca Kaplan elected so I hope you’ll join me in voting enthusiastically for her. If you need a reminder of why to vote for Rebecca, check out my initial endorsement from the June primary or my more recent explanation of why I’m voting FOR Rebecca, and not against Kerry Hamill.

Measures N, NN & OO: No!

I’m voting no on all the Oakland measures. While they might sound like they’re good ideas – increasing teacher pay, getting more police, and giving money to youth programs – they’re not!

Others have already done a great job explaining why you should vote these measures down, so go check these out:

Measures VV & WW: Yes!

If you appreciate buses and parks, vote yes on Measure VV & Measure WW. If you missed it, check out my full endorsement post on VV. Then, head over to A Better Oakland to read V Smoothe’s endorsement of WW, including a very detailed list of how Oakland would benefit from its passage.

AC Transit Director: Chris Peeples

Chris has been on the AC Transit Board for years and has done a great job. He thoroughly impressed me at the East Bay Young Democrats endorsement meeting. His opponent, Joyce Roy, has staked her campaign on complaining about Van Hool buses (which I love) and fighting BRT (which I cannot wait for). This choice is easy. Check out Chris Peeples’ and Joyce Roy’s answers to the East Bay Young Dems questionnaire for more reasons to vote for Chris.

Berkeley Measure KK: NO!!!!

Yeah, I know, this blog’s about Oakland, not Berkeley, but I couldn’t resist. KK’s anti-environment and anti-transit. That’s why the entire city council, the mayor, the Sierra Club, the League of Women Voters, and the Democratic Party are opposing it. If you need more reasons to vote no, check out the No on KK website or read the short opinion piece I wrote for the Daily Cal about KK.

Covering November’s transit measures & candidates

20 Oct

There are several local and state transit issues that Californians will vote on this November, and each of them have been generating a lot of discussion in the blogosphere.

With the vote on Measure KK in Berkeley just a couple weeks away, it seems like everyone’s talking about Bus Rapid Transit (BRT). V Smoothe wrote two must read posts over the past week, making strong arguments for BRT. First, she explained that the main advantage of BRT is not speed, it’s reliability. Today, she followed up by debunking the myth that the proposed BRT line is redundant to BART. Raymond at Oakland Space Academy is open to the idea of BRT but is a bit more skeptical than most of Oakland’s bloggers.

Shockingly, the Berkeley Daily Planet distorted what happened at Jane Brunner’s recent BRT meeting in North Oakland. I attended the meeting and wrote here that the overwhelming sentiment of the Oakland community was in support of BRT. Yet Jesse Douglas Allen-Taylor claimed that Oaklanders at the meeting were as divided as Berkeley is on the issue (which couldn’t be much further for the truth). Luckily, in the same issue, dto510’s excellent opinion piece on BRT was published, along with a letter to the editor from me contesting Allen-Taylor’s claims about the meeting.

BRT is not all that’s at stake for transit on this November’s ballot. Prop 1A would authorize the sale of bonds to finance a high speed rail system from Los Angeles to San Francisco. While I agree with V Smoothe’s assessment early this year that the Altamont alignment of the rail line would have been much more favorable for the line as a whole and for Oakland in particular, I think this project is still worthwhile under the chosen Pacheco alignment. Robert’s been following this initiative closely for months now over at his California High Speed Rail Blog, making several convincing arguments about why we need high speed rail now. I especially appreciated his recent post explaining that the high speed rail project will provide needed economic stimulus to our state, much like bridges and dams did during the Great Depression.

Though at first thought it might not seem relevant to Oaklanders, Santa Clara County will be voting on Measure B, which would increase the county’s sales tax rate to fund the extension of BART to San Jose. Eric at Transbay Blog has embarked on an in-depth series of posts dedicated to explaining the history of this project and to making a clear argument about why BART to San Jose is a bad idea for the Bay Area’s regional transit system. 295bus agrees, arguing that the local transit agency’s obsession with the BART extension has gotten in the way of other opportunities to improve transit in the county.

And while we’ve all been distracted by the presidential race and the at-large city council race, there’s another important race happening in Oakland. At-large AC Transit Director Chris Peeples is being challenged by Joyce Roy, an Oakland resident who has staked her campaign on complaining about Van Hool buses and opposing BRT (PDF). Needless to say, I’m voting for Peeples, and Jeff Hobson from the Transportation and Land Use Coalition is too.